In today’s society unrealistic stereotypes for women and men are everywhere. Billboards, magazines, television, social media; it’s overwhelming. If I could redo any moment in my life, I would redo the moment in eighth grade when I first made an Instagram. Immediately I was overwhelmed with thigh-gaps, perfect pearly white teeth, and designer outfits that costed more than my single mother's monthly paycheck. For years I tried desperately to fit into this mold that social media had created for young women. It wasn't until I came across a "body positive" blog that I started to love myself. The blog praised and celebrated crazy hair days, cellulite, thick thighs, stretch marks and everything else that is natural for a woman to have. I can't even begin to imagine where I would be today if 13 year old me hadn't found that blog and been inspired to live a happier, healthier life.
I’ll never forget my first instagram post. I spent an hour covering my freckles with concealer and pinching my cheeks until they were the perfect, blushed shade of red. On went the tightest pair of jeans I owned and my most padded push-up bra. Then I stood in front of my full length mirror trying different unnatural poses, and camera angles that made my hand cramp until I found the right combination that made me look the skinniest. I remember taking off my makeup and putting on comfortable sweatpants and a baggy tee-shirt as my lower lip quivered and tears stung my eyes. This felt natural, the comfy clothes and freckles and messy bun. That stiff, airbrushed person on instagram wasn’t me. It never would be me.
Nevertheless I continued to keep up this online persona until it took over my offline life as well. I ate less and less until I found myself laying on the floor trying desperately to distract from the inside-out, empty feeling that my stomach constantly had. My thighs grew smaller as my number of social media followers grew larger and larger. Comments like “You’re so pretty!” “Your life is so perfect” and “I wish I had your stomach, it’s so flat!” littered my notifications. With shaky fingers I’d reply to every comment thanking them for being “so sweet”. I felt like a complete fraud. The impossible standard that I was trying to live up to was stirring hatred in my heart, hatred for myself.
Then one night as I was laying in bed scrolling through the “explore” page I came across a picture that caught my eye immediately. It was a picture of a woman laughing. I’m not totally sure, but I think what caught my attention was how genuinely happy she looked. And the biggest shocker of all: she wasn’t skinny. She was lounging in a pool chair wearing a bikini, and instead of sucking in and posing, she was laughing and her belly rolls were there, and bare for all the world to see. No retouching, no uncomfortable poses. Just pure happiness and confidence. I probably stared at that picture for an hour, rethinking the past year of my life. It was so pleasantly surprising to me that she was so confident in herself even though she didn’t have what society deemed a “perfect” body. And she was beautiful, she was so beautiful, to this day her confidence and glow still motivates me to love myself no matter what.
Once I began to love myself and all my beautiful flaws, life instantly got better. No longer hungry all the time I started baking and cooking for fun, taste testing (and re-taste testing) everything. I stopped coating my face in makeup everyday and learned to love my freckles. I began posting pictures on instagram again: this time I smiled with my teeth, baring my crooked front tooth proudly. One by one I unfollowed all of the God-awful “thinspo” pages and filled my feed with mindfulness tips, healthy living and body-positive blogs.
If there is one thing that I want readers to take away from this story, I want them to realize that conformity stunts the growth of your spirit. As Johnny Depp once said: “I think everybody is weird. We should all celebrate our individuality and not be embarrassed of it.” Cheesy? Very. But l think those corny, self-love quotes actually have something going for them. Ultimately living your life how YOU want to is so much easier than trying to fit into an impossible mold. Love yourself. Cherish yourself. Be yourself, your beautiful self.